- The World of Anime Fandom in America
What I think the various fan subcultures do is provide a space for community. They allow people of diverse background and experience to form bonds around a common interest. They let people know that they are not alone in their likes and their passions. Fan subcultures provide the sense of belonging that used to be common among most American communities and families prior to the 1980s. Today kids are raised by daycares and public schools. Parents are too busy working and building careers to devote significant time for family building and family life. Kids are just one of the many entries on the day planner. . . . Fan subcultures help to provide a space for community where people can come and be accepted for who they are. In a society as fragmented as America has become, fan subcultures can provide an oasis for the weary soul.—Thirty-eight-year-old utility company tech support worker and member of the Miyazaki Mailing List
Miyazaki's film is about social interaction, historical context, responsibility, and coordination within a society. Towards the end, the story is about a certain consensus—a group coming together to agree and rally around a certain set of values, experiences, goals.—Mike A, member of the Miyazaki Mailing List [End Page 47]
Q. What's the fascination of Hayao Miyazaki?
A. Even though Hayao Miyazaki is so successful, he seems to prefer to work hard and earnestly with people rather than distancing himself from people with walls of money and bureaucracy. He shares his wonderful stories of hope and courage with his audiences. He earnestly cares for the environment and helps young and old people share the enthusiasm for the real and imaginary parts of nature as large as a forest full of Catbuses and as small as a tree under which one Totoro stands in the rain.—Michael Johnson, owner, Miyazaki Mailing List
In his landmark book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000), the political scientist Robert D. Putnam charts the increasing decline of what he terms "social capital" in contemporary American society. Chronicling the fading of civic groups, union organizations, church socials, and sports clubs, Putnam paints a picture of American society (and, by inference, other postindustrial societies) growing ever more disconnected and fragmented. He makes a strong case for how these trends lead to alienation and passivity, including offering a melancholy vision of 2010 where future Americans will spend their leisure time "sitting passively alone in front of glowing screens."1 While he does acknowledge the potential role of the Internet as a facilitator of communication—quoting the sociologist Barry Wellman, who maintains that "computer-supported social networks sustain strong, intermediate and weak ties that provide information and social support in both specialized and broadly based relationships"—Putnam also worries that overuse of the Internet will lead to "single strand" cybercommunities and "Cyberbalkanization" in which individuals speak only to a circle of "like-minded intimates."2
This essay examines one such "single strand," the Miyazaki Mailing List, an international group of fans devoted to the works of Miyazaki Hayao, who is Japan's, and arguably the world's, greatest living animator. I discuss this group not only in terms of its status as an Internet community but also in relation to anime fan culture overall, one of the world's fastest-growing subcultures, and in relation to the question of Japanese "soft power," what Douglas McGray defines as "the art of transmitting certain kinds of mass culture."3
I have chosen the Miyazaki Mailing List (MML) for a variety of reasons. First, it is one of the oldest ongoing groups of Internet anime fans, begun at Brown University by Steven Feldman in 1991 and now being run out of Seattle, Washington, by Michael Johnson. Second, its members are a particularly articulate, engaged, and varied group, encompassing a wide range of ages and [End Page 48] a fair number of female participants and representing numerous countries, from Australia to Belarussia. Finally, and most important, the objects of their interest—Miyazaki, his partner Takahata Isao, and everything related to their animation studio, Studio Ghibli—comprise...